If you are currently pregnant you are most likely encountering quite a lot of surprising changes to your body. It is normal for your body to experience certain levels of discomfort, as the mother’s organs, especially the lungs, kidneys and heart get strained due to the fetus’ need for oxygen and nutrients, and the elimination of waste products.
Thinking about the health of you and your baby during pregnancy can be overwhelming. There are numerous health complications that may occur and thus maintaining your well being can be a challenging endeavor.
Today, we will specifically discuss gestational diabetes, a health condition during pregnancy that has been on the rise, and tips on how to manage it.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is diabetes (excessively high blood glucose/sugar levels) that may occur during pregnancy.
An organ called placenta that supports the growth and development of the baby forms in the mother’s uterus during pregnancy. The placenta synthesizes hormones that reduce the effectiveness of insulin, a type of hormone that is secreted by the pancreas.
When food is consumed, insulin controls the storage and the usage of the blood sugar. Therefore, because insulin is less effective during pregnancy, a modest increase in blood sugar levels is common and a normal part of pregnancy. However gestational diabetes is detected when this increase in blood sugar becomes excessive.
This type of diabetes usually goes away once the pregnancy is over but it has potential long term consequences for both the mother and the baby. Having gestational diabetes increases the likelihood of the mother developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It is also linked to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes for the child.
Wellspring Nutrition has compiled a list of five tips that can help you get through your pregnancy in the most healthful way possible, especially if you are struggling with gestational diabetes or have risk factors.
Tip #1: Exercise
Research suggests that consistent physical activity during pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational diabetes by 50 percent.
The recommended amount and level of physical activity depends on how active you were prior to pregnancy, but the general recommendation is 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity physical activity per week. Here are some examples of activities that are generally safe to do:
- Light aerobics
- Light jogging
If you were very active before pregnancy, you should be able to maintain the same level of activeness but it is best to consult with a health care specialist first.
Other than lowering the risk for gestational diabetes, there are many benefits to staying active during pregnancy for both you and the baby. For the mother, physical activity can also lower the risk for gestational hypertension, high blood pressure during pregnancy. Staying active also boosts cardiovascular function, decreases back pain, contributes to better sleep, minimizes the loss of bone density due to pregnancy, and reduces edema (swelling caused by pregnancy) of legs and feet. For the baby, an appropriate amount of exercise leads to longer gestation (prevention of preterm birth), potential improvement for their brain development, and an increased likelihood of them having a healthy BMI during childhood.
Please keep in mind, however, that there are certain types of physical activities that pregnant women should avoid. Activities that could lead to abdominal trauma must be avoided. These are few examples of physical activities that you should avoid:
- Contact sports (soccer, wrestling, basketball, football etc.)
- Downhill skiing
- Scuba diving
- Horseback riding
- Heavy weightlifting
- Hot yoga
Regardless of your background or your specific condition, if you are looking to stay active during your pregnancy, you should speak with your health care provider to ensure the safety of you and the baby.
Tip #2: Being aware of optimal weight gain during pregnancy
Gaining weight during pregnancy is a natural and normal process. This is absolutely not the time to be attempting any kind of weight loss. It is also important to be mindful of what a healthy weight gain should look like during this critical period.
During the first trimester, mothers should be consuming around the same amount of calories as prior to pregnancy and should be expecting around 2 to 4 pounds of weight gain. After the first trimester, gaining around 0.8 to 1 pound per week is considered to be ideal. During the second and third trimester, mothers should be consuming about 350 to 450 additional calories compared to their pre-pregnancy days.
The optimal total weight gain is around 25 to 35 pounds for someone with a BMI in the normal range. If you are carrying twins, however, the optimal range is between 37 to 54 pounds.
Tip #3: Eating quality carbohydrates
Controlling your blood sugar levels is essential for managing gestational diabetes. Choosing the right type and amount of carbohydrates to consume is a great place to start.
Although skipping carbohydrates might sound tempting if you are worried about your blood sugar levels, this is never recommended. Carbohydrates supply energy for the placenta and it supports the healthy growth of your baby. There is no evidence for the effectiveness of a low carbohydrate diet for managing gestational diabetes and the general recommendation is a minimum of 175 grams a day, although it may depend on the individual.
When consuming carbohydrates, choosing the type with a low glycemic index is highly recommended. The glycemic index of a food indicates how rapidly it causes the blood sugar level to rise. Low glycemic index foods raise the blood sugar level much more slowly compared to high glycemic index foods, due to its slower rate of absorption.
Mothers with gestational diabetes should avoid refined grains such as white rice, white bread, white pasta, and white flour as well as foods containing a lot of added sugars since they usually have higher glycemic index.
The recommended carbohydrates on the other hand are starchy foods with high dietary fiber content such as whole/unprocessed grains, beans/legumes, vegetables, and fruits.
Additionally, carbohydrate consumption should be spread out throughout the day- instead of eating a few big meals a day, having smaller meals distributed within a day helps control major blood sugar fluctuations.
Tip #4: Watching your diet
Although pregnant women should consume more calories during their second and third trimester, the quality of your food should be prioritized over quantity.
Other than carbohydrates, there are several macro and micro nutrients that you should be actively incorporating in your diet during your pregnancy especially if you are dealing with gestational diabetes.
Research suggests that consuming protein from lean meat (unprocessed), fish, and plants are favorable for the treatment of gestational diabetes. In fact, women with gestational diabetes are recommended to consume 350 grams of fish per week. Check out our blog about high protein foods here as well, as we talk about safe types of fish to consume during pregnancy.
The overall fat intake for women with gestational diabetes should be around 20 to 35 percent of total energy intake and the consumption of saturated fat should be restricted.
There are several vitamins and minerals that play an important role during pregnancy. Iron, calcium, folic acid (Vitamin B9), and 25-Hydroxyvitamin D are a few examples.
Here are the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations for these micronutrients:
- Iron: 27 milligram/day
- Calcium: 1000 milligram/day
- Folic acid: 600 microgram/day
- 25-Hydroxyvitamin D: 5 microgram/day
These dietary advice are not just specific to women with gestational diabetes but apply to all pregnant women to ensure a healthy pregnancy with the best possible outcomes.
Tip #5: Screening
This is especially important if diabetes runs in your family or you are considered to be overweight prior to pregnancy.
Although lifestyle modification is key for gestational diabetes management, visiting your healthcare provider and receiving nutritional guidance or possible clinical treatment tailored to your individual needs should be a priority as well.
It is recommended that all women regardless of a history of type 2 diabetes be screened between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you have risk factors for type 2 diabetes, getting screened at your first prenatal visit is advised. Regardless of your health history, receiving prenatal care, especially during the first trimester is crucial as that is the most critical time for the baby’s development.
Looking for more support?
Whether it is guidance regarding hormonal imbalances like PCOS, or any fertility or pregnancy concerns, Wellspring Nutrition has your back! Our fertility dietician is available for consultation.
- “Exercise During Pregnancy: Safe And Beneficial.” https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/exercise-during-pregnancy-safe-and-beneficial-too/
- “Insulin Basics”, https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/insulin-other-injectables/insulin-basics
- Rasmussen L, Poulsen CW, Kampmann U, Smedegaard SB, Ovesen PG, Fuglsang J. “Diet and Healthy Lifestyle in the Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.” Nutrients 2020 Oct 6;12(10):3050. doi: 10.3390/nu12103050. PMID: 33036170
- Smith A, Colleen A, Spees C. “Wardlaw’s Contemporary Nutrition, 12th Edition.” McGraw Hill, 2022.
- “What Is Glycemic Index.” https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/diet-trends/what-is-glycemic-index